A year after cutting sports, UND athletics adjusting to slimmer budget

Roughly 13 months ago, the UND athletic department made a controversial decision to drop women's hockey along with men's and women's swimming and diving--an effort meant to strengthen the athletic department's financial picture amid reductions in...


Roughly 13 months ago, the UND athletic department made a controversial decision to drop women's hockey along with men's and women's swimming and diving-an effort meant to strengthen the athletic department's financial picture amid reductions in state funding.

A look at UND athletics' budget after the cuts to three sports provides a glimpse at the department's slimmed-down future.

Digging in to UND's 2018 budget shows it's roughly $6 million less than the previous year, provides additional support to some non-revenue sports, doesn't yet display the savings in categories some were expecting and is produced on the back end differently than before.

The path to UND's $21,892,340 budget for 2018 (the fiscal year runs from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018) began even before the school's most recent reduction in state funding.

In 2016, UND's athletic budget was operating with a $1.4 million deficit.


UND President Mark Kennedy, who started his job in July of 2016, said the school would cover that loss once but wouldn't again going forward.

Per Kennedy's direction, Becky Lucke, UND assistant athletic director for finance, said the department's budget for 2018 was the first submitted as balanced.

"It's hard to compare (year by year) because in the past athletics was allowed to go over and the institution funded it," Lucke said. "It's a different way (to budget) than we've done in the past."

Athletic departments are required to file NCAA finance reports every year. But finding apples-to-apples comparisons with those NCAA reports can be a difficult task.

The NCAA reports can be filed in different ways at different schools and even different ways at the same school if financial leaders change roles. The report's generic categories can lend to differences in interpretation.

Difficult comparisons

Anyone comparing UND's finances across the past few years can attest. The school went through a switch in auditors to James Moore Certified Public Accountants and Consultants, a Florida company that works with large athletic departments across the country.

"They come in and say this is how you file your NCAA report," Lucke said.


The change in UND's budgeting process and auditors also makes it difficult to pinpoint the general areas in which the athletic department will see the most savings.

Athletic director Bill Chaves, who came to UND from Eastern Washington and started his position on March 1, pointed to savings in operational costs.

"You're reducing the amount of games," Chaves said. "If you don't have games, you don't pay officials and ticket-takers ... or buy equipment."

But UND won't be spending less money in certain categories some were expecting when the cuts were up for discussion-although UND leaders caution against comparing NCAA reports to UND's 2018 budget lines because of changes to the process across fiscal years.

In 2018, UND plans to spend similar amounts in comparison to pre-cut totals in the areas of coaching salaries and benefits ($7,518,995 in the 2017 NCAA report to a budgeted $7,382,442 in 2018) and travel ($3,152,312 in the 2017 report to a budgeted $3,088,342).

Also, despite the loss in scholarships from women's hockey and swimming and diving (roughly 35), UND won't see savings year to year in scholarship costs-at least initially.

In UND's 2017 budget, the athletic department spent $5,332,244 on scholarships, according to the NCAA Membership Financial Reporting System.

In 2018, UND budgeted to spend $5,425,902 on scholarships.


There are a number of factors for that cost not dropping immediately, UND leaders say.

In the 2018 budget, UND saw a tuition increase of 4 percent, Lucke said. She also said the scholarship costs see an impact from an athlete's residency (international scholarships are more expensive than national ones), as well as other rising costs such as housing and dining.

UND's associate athletic director for compliance, Kara Helmig, added that UND is honoring the scholarships for cut athletes that have stayed on at UND as students, so those savings could be a few years away.

"In a lot of ways, there's not an initial 100 to 0," Chaves said. "It's 100 to some number, then eventually you'll realize the full savings."

UND also wasn't able to just remove the 35 cut scholarships off the books. With the school's move from the Big Sky Conference to the Summit League in 2019, UND needed to reallocate some scholarships to fund certain sports at a Summit-regulated level.

The Summit says member schools need to fund five non-basketball Summit sports at 85 percent of the NCAA maximum.

With the Summit scholarship boost, as well as a redivision of scholarships to balance Title IX requirements, much of the guessing game to which teams would benefit from additional scholarships was removed.

The three biggest beneficiaries of the shuffled scholarships were men's and women's tennis and women's track and field/cross country.


Men's tennis went from no scholarships in 2017 to a scheduled 3.75 for 2019. Women's tennis went from roughly 4.5 in 2017 to 7.5 in 2019, while women's track and field/cross country went from a little more than 14 in 2017 to 18 in 2019.

Although the scholarship shuffle occurred mostly prior to Chaves' move to Grand Forks, the new athletic director is on board with a ramped-up support for some of the school's non-revenue sports.

Chaves said his view on non-revenue sports is based on student-athlete experience and how that experience, in turn, can impact alumni's long-term university support.

"I worry about every student-athlete experience," Chaves said. "They need to get to the end of their time at UND and, knock on wood, say they would do it again. Everyone's experience can get better and that's our job as administrators to do that."

Unknown allotment

UND's scheduled scholarship allotment for 2019 has one unknown. The current setup calls for men's golf to receive 1.5 scholarships, despite the program's uncertain future.

UND cut men's golf in April of 2016, along with baseball, but acting UND President Ed Schafer opened the door to allow men's golf to pursue external funding to survive.

Schafer's plan called for an endowment to be established for the men's golf program if it hopes to continue for fiscal year 2019 and beyond. The deadline for that funding will need to be in place by June 1.


Chaves said he didn't have any updates on new developments with men's golf's fundraising efforts.

"Not where we sit today, but hopefully (there's an update) in the near future," Chaves said. "I think there were conversations before I assumed the chair. I think those conversations are continuing on. There are dates in place and we're waiting for those mile markers to take place."

With just about two months on the job, Chaves said he's looking forward to increasing engagement in finances in the future.

"When I walked in, there was a budget process taking place, and I've said to our staff, as soon as that is put to bed, we're starting the budget process for the following year," Chaves said. "Then, I can identify what transpired last year and what we think will transpire next year. I want to go back in and really dig in line by line."

One area that will impact future budgets will be the way Chaves organizes the top tier of his athletic administration. One of those hires includes his Senior Women's Administrator, where former SWA Daniella Irle left for another job in January. UND's director for athletic academic services, Amanda Hajdu, has held the interim title since Irle's departure.

"I look forward to the next 30ish days, until July 1, to really figure out administratively how we break up our duties," Chaves said. "That's still on my plate."

Coaching contracts

Perhaps further complicating matters for a new athletic director has been the pricy coaching contracts announced this spring by Summit League rivals at North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State.


NDSU, for example, announced earlier this month that football coach Chris Klieman had his contract extended through 2023. If bonuses are achieved, Klieman could make almost $475,000 annually.

UND football coach Bubba Schweigert's current deal calls for a base salary of $185,000.

"I was aware of it ... I think you monitor it," Chaves said. "You need to be within a band and stay in an area code."

Coming from Eastern Washington, Chaves said he has unique experiences when it comes to balancing a strained budget. At last report, EWU had an athletic department budget of roughly $14 million.

"I feel like I have a good perspective in a sense with where I came from," Chaves said. "UND has more dollars than Eastern does. There's different competitors, different location, different pieces to look through, but I want to go down a path and say 'Is this something that moves the needle or do we need to do something different to move the needle?'

"We always need to be analyzing. None of us are ever comfortable. We're always looking how to give programs and student-athletes an edge."

Another angle of the budget that could throw a wrench into projections is that North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum earlier this month announced that the North Dakota University System should plan for a 10 percent budget reduction in the next biennium.

"That just came out, so I don't know, I think we're monitoring it and seeing what transpires," Chaves said.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019 and 2022.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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